The American movie continues… Well, the time is quickly coming upon us to choose a President for the nation. In the next 130 or so days, our internet, radios, TVs, and even billboards will fire volley and volley, quietly assuring us that only one man can set us on the right path in the future of the nation. Most of us have been around long enough to know that is actually TRUE – but Jesus isn’t going to be on the ballot, so we will have to settle with someone less Savior like. Instead, we will hear about two men’s ideas of how we should move forward. We will debate, and some of us will even argue. Still others will hold up their hands and say “God’s will”, as if voting and engagement were no longer required – but you know that isn’t true. Why mention this season today? Because I want us to look at the ROAD AHEAD. I want to remind you that the story began long before you and I, and will continue until a “The End” slide shines across the Heavens with the Divine remaking of all things promised in the last two chapters of Revelation. In our next study, we will be back to look at those promises. For now, let’s follow the theme of this year’s VBS and take a look at the encouragements that come from understanding “God’s Big Movie”.
Key Principle: God has a plan for our life and our future. It isn’t only something we will experience after death – but something we should experience RIGHT NOW!
This past week at our Vacation Bible School, our children have been learning truths that relate to God’s purposes from Ephesians 1, particularly in verses 11-13. By looking at this together, my hope is that some of you will find a way to have a more meaningful discussion with your children because of the few observations we make on our way to our subject of the day.
Look at Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. 13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
Paul opens singing a praise to God! His heart was full because of the many incredible things God did on his and the Ephesian’s behalf. Look more closely at Paul’s encouragement:
First, Paul addressed a believer’s ATTITUDE ABOUT LIFE by his example.
He opened his remarks with praise: 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ…” He welled up inside with praise for all that God did for believers in opening the gates of Heaven to sinful men and women. He knew the God was the source of the blessings of Heaven – not any good deed done by men. We don’t EARN a place at God’s table – the ticket for entry was paid by God’s gift of His Son. The proper attitude anyone who knows what God did for us is one of deep and enduring thanks! That is why Paul wanted to bless God (1:3).
Let me ask a penetrating question: “Are you praising God more, or worrying and complaining more? Are you worried that somehow God has lost track of our country and its bend to push all things Biblical out of the public square? Let me remind you of what Paul was reading in the Roman Times when he was praising God for the blessings to come:
- Paul sat for three years in jail in Caesarea, awaiting trial and paying for his own lodging. In the days leading to his arrest, and as he sat there, things weren’t going well in the Roman Empire. Expecting a speedy trial was a pipe dream.
- The Emperor decided that he didn’t really like governing, and decided rather to break with all convention of propriety and perform on stage for the first time. Nero let his governing drift – while devoting himself to playing the more important pursuits of lyre playing, singing, acting, and composing poetry. In the past, stage performers usually came from the lower orders. The Roman aristocracy found them repulsive and even his mother (who had him installed in the first place) was embarrassed by his negligence and impropriety. Expecting a level-headed judge in Rome was probably more than Paul could hope for.
- Not content to perform his life away, Nero fell in love with Poppaea Sabina (of Pompeii): a beautiful woman that was in her second marriage when Nero and her rendezvoused in love. It didn’t last, as he later got upset with her and kicked her pregnant body to death. Expecting a good outcome in a Roman court headed by Caesar couldn’t have been Paul’s expectation.
- Not long after, he ordered the death of his own mother. An ex-slave called Anicetus built a collapsible boat to make the murder look like a maritime accident. When she survived, Nero dispatched with a column of troops, who surrounded the villa, and Agrippina was then hacked to death by her son’s soldiers. Looking for compassion in Nero’s government was a lost cause.
- Paul likely met Nero for his first hearing in the end of the year 61 or 62 CE. He had been staying at his own expense under guard in a small area close to the Tiber where tanners and dyers had their operations. He lived in modest chambers and wrote the letters of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. Particularly in Philippians, one can see the hope of the future, as Paul felt optimistic that he could explain his faith in non-threatening terms to the state. He wrote to the Philippians toward the end of his house arrest, anticipating the trial with confidence: Phil 1:12 “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, 14and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”
- To add to the mayhem, either on the journey to get there, or while in Rome in the year 62 CE, an earthquake (subduction in the Bay of Naples) caused a tsunami with a tidal wave that swamped the ships at Ostia harbor near to Rome, ruining as much as one third of the Alexandrian grain. Coins were minted to show the people that all was well in spite of the disaster, but Nero must have found himself scrambling to meet the needs of the people for bread in that year. To expect Nero to be focused on Paul’s plight was impossible.
Yet, Paul walked out of Rome. The Gospel kept spreading. God wasn’t done with him, so Paul wasn’t done. It defied explanation in the human sphere.
What’s my point? Things weren’t going well. The economy was under a huge world-wide strain. The government was increasingly unstable and hostile to truth and decency. YET PAUL WAS CONFIDENT AND PRAISING. What a lesson for people who can’t seem to find the good in days like ours!
Let me be clear: The attitude of the believer is POSITIVE because this life is not where we place our hope. This country is not where we place our value system. We can love our land, fight for our land, pray for our land, stand for our liberties and argue with anyone who desires to tear them from us – but all the while we must remember not to trust in horse, chariots, TVs, cellphones, comfort and fast food. This is where we WORK – Heaven is where we LIVE. Believers who forget that quickly get disillusioned.
Second, Paul addressed a believer’s UNDERSTANDING ABOUT GOD by revelation.
He continued his remarks in the letter by offering a complex thought in the next verses: Ephesians 1:4 “…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
Paul simple said that God chose believers – but not randomly and not after observation of their qualification. He only knew that because God revealed this truth. God made the determination long before our time that He would open the door of salvation to us, and make it possible for us to be wholly accepted and blameless before Him. We were declared right by His holy intention, long before we even knew right and wrong. In fact, the Bible says we were adopted before an inspection – chosen to produce things that would honor and bring glory to the Father. We have a deliberate understanding that God made a conscious choice to invite us onto a relationship with Him, long before we had a clue He wanted to do so. It wasn’t that He was somehow “bamboozled” by our religiosity or a few good deeds we may have done too look good to Him. In fact, He knew exactly what we were like – and chose us anyway! (1:4).
There are two common maladies that Christians face when they stray from God’s Word:
First, some think themselves better than others, and begin to believe they are higher in God’s sight because of some innate goodness that attracted God to them in the first place. This is called the “Pharisee Disease”. It shows itself on Facebook all the time. It is the reason some people think witness is effective in condemnation. If we insult, brow beat and look down on people, they will realize that we are both superior and right, and they will abandon their unfortunate paganism for the moral high ground, where they can join us!
The second malady that inflicts straying believers is the exact opposite. They begin to compound despair on the guilt of their lives and see themselves as entirely unworthy of God’s grace. They focus on their past, their weakness, their fickle unfaithfulness – or even some event long past. They are discouraged, drained and doubting. This is Christian Anemia.
Standing strong requires two things: recognizing that you don’t know how or why God does what God does, and believing fully in the character of a good God who does things the right way. Those who feel forced to be able to explain every facet of God’s work will labor tirelessly to put every statement of God into a box – and they will end with something well short of Who the Almighty truly is. Let God be God – and let Him know things you don’t. That isn’t just smart, it is required to maintain a Biblical view of God and a balanced view of truth. At the same time, spend less time trying to explain Him and more time trying to bless and honor Him. Trust in the character that knows everything about you and still loves you anyway. You will find He is able to deliver on your trust. It is this very kind of character trust that Paul expressed in Romans 8:38 “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Let me ask you openly: “Do you truly KNOW that God loves you? Do you trust that He is able to see all that you have done, and yet still adopt you as His own and open Heaven to you?” Sometimes the last person to forgive us IS US.
Third, Paul made plain the price of salvation.
He argued that a believer should recognize the means by which He provided to adopt us into a relationship was through the payment made specifically by Jesus Christ (1:7-8). The price was high and the choice was profound. Look at what he said:
Ephesians 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us In all wisdom and insight …”
Paul recognized the tremendous blood-price of salvation. We aren’t saved by doing good things. We aren’t wooed into Heaven because of our morality. We are honestly judged by God to be fully guilty – and deserving of punishment. One who did nothing wrong was killed as a sacrificial lamb on our behalf. The richness of becoming a son of the Most High was made possible because the Perfect One paid the full purchase price to open the adoption door. We sinned, He substituted Himself as payment. That is the GOOD NEWS. That is the Gospel.
Paul wrote that we are LAVISHED upon by God’s grace. The word “perisseúō” is translated “He lavished on us” forgiveness. The term could be simply translated “over the top”. God went beyond anyone’s expectation and anyone’s reasonable idea to dribble, then pour, than drench us with blessing, love, hope, and freedom from sinful bondage. We swim in His goodness, we wallow in His love. We are saturated by His forgiveness. Who cannot stand and marvel at such a wonder? Who does not feel small and unworthy in ourselves but grateful and satisfied in His choice? Believers need to shut off the TV and stand at the edge of the night’s sky, and look into the unmeasured Heavens with awe that God ever noticed them. When we lose our awe, we lose our thankfulness. When we lose our thankfulness – we lose our power. We need to get out WONDER back!
Fourth, Paul explained that God communicated truth to us.
As Paul continued, he made clear that what he was sharing was not simply a great idea of a really smart guy. He said: Ephesians 1:9 “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth.
There are only two explanations to this world: there is a Creator or there is not. There is intelligence and purpose, or the whole universe is a fluke – an accident, a random series of meaningless events. Our nation’s universities have chosen the latter idea – believing that the signature of God on snowflakes, DNA, stars and galaxies, and even the still inexplicable assembly of the human body in the womb are insufficient to draw the conclusion of a conscious creation. I have chosen to read the heavens and believe that no such order can be random. They can call my belief unscientific. The Bible calls theirs simple foolishness.
Psalm 14 said it this way: 1 “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; There is no one who does good. 2 The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God…”
The way of the fool is gripping a nation and leading us to despair. Young people who are not being educated to see life as a sacred gift are taking over our hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages. Those who have NO VIEW of a Creator or a bigger view of life than food and drink, and now determining treatment options for those who don’t “offer much” to society. Men and women with fine scholastic pedigrees are walking the halls of our hallowed institutions of government with no appreciation that we can to this land and formed this nation to flee those “enlightened” views that led Europe into post- Christian malaise. Our forefathers fled them, and now we graduate them.
What can we do? We can grasp God’s Word tightly and make no apology for believing that trees didn’t create themselves. We can stand for the revelation of God’s Word in the face of those who believe they are akin to the animal kingdom. Let them – for the time being – have their hopeless life – and we will look up and face the Son. We will expect their hostility, and return love in its place. The harder they become, the more hopeless they will feel – it is inevitable. Sodom offered no safety and security long before judgment fell.
When the nation loses all sense of family – when sexuality is nothing more than a choice like one’s breakfast cereal – they will live with the cold world they have sculpted. The love believers have for one another will again shine in darkness, the praise we offer ceaselessly to our Heavenly Father will again release a timbre into the silence, and the unbending way we hold His Word as truth will look as inviting as a warm fire on a cold winter’s night. Let the night come, and stop cursing the darkness. It is almost time for us to shake off the embarrassing way we have embraced the material prosperity at the expense of spiritual tenacity. The night is coming when no man can work – but we need not despair. God told us all about it.
Fifth, Paul explained the PURPOSE of the whole movie.
Paul wrote: “…In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.
God gave new life so that believers can experience the results of the relationship God offers. Such by-products include eventual redemption (to be bought out of slavery to serving sin), current forgiveness (a satisfaction of payment to Him for the breach of rebellion, 1:7), daily understanding of His will for our lives (1:8-9), and a great an optimistic view of the future life with Him and each other (1:10-13).
Listen to the last part of the same words in another more contemporary paraphrase called “The Message”:
1:11-14 It is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, He had his eye on us, He had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose He is working out in everything and everyone. It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.
What an amazing set of truths! God wants a relationship with us! God wants to spend time with us in our daily lives, in our hopes and dreams, in our thrills and sorrows. He doesn’t want to be the obligation – the little sister you had to take on dates. He doesn’t want to be on our “to do list” like the call you feel obliged to make to old Aunt Edna who complains about her bowels and denture pains. He wants to be a vibrant part of our lives! That is what we have been teaching children – Know Jesus and Know Peace…. No Jesus and No Peace.
- Remember that God chose thoughtfully, and specifically chose His army to gain victory in the battle: You are not a “mistake” -He is qualified to choose the right ones!
- Recognize that God gave lavishly. You have an incredible future planned for you -He has guaranteed it and He has paid for it!
- Rejoice that God delivers faithfully. No promise of God ever gets left undone. He moved into hearts to offer incredible power and to reassure the down trodden. You can be lifted countless times – He has power to keep restoring and rebuilding you!